By Tim Nasson
The movie A Simple Favor, directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), isn’t as funny as you might imagine it would be given its impressive cast of comedic actors – Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding (the breakout Eurasian star of Crazy Rich Asians), Andrew Rannels, Jean Smart (yes, of “Designing Women”) and Linda Cardellini. It starts out as a comedy but then meanders into film noir territory, not really knowing which it wants to be and not being able to seamlessly combine the two genres.
However, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively give two of the best performances of the year, feeding off each other’s polar-opposite characters; Kendrick’s Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes Stephanie, a widow mommy vlogger who is always overextending herself, volunteering at her son’s school and Emily, Lively’s bitch-from-hell, self-loathing, selfish, afternoon martini guzzling, foul-mouthed ad executive mommy.
Assume nothing about the two mothers at the center of this film. Surfaces may be bright and polished, but no one is what they seem. When Stephanie is first approached by Emily to come over for a playdate, she is intrigued. Emily is mysterious and alluring with her super-posh lifestyle: a city job in high fashion, a sexy British/Chinese (Golding) author husband and an impeccably modern, showcase house. Stephanie is flattered when Emily seems to quickly latch onto her as a confidante and new best friend. She appears to be the ultimate insider, and Stephanie feels like she has cracked into a world of her most extravagant mommy dreams. “I need a simple favor,” Emily says one afternoon. Without hesitation, Stephanie eagerly agrees to take Emily’s son, Nicky, home with her after school one day.
However, simple becomes complicated when Emily disappears completely, leaving Stephanie with her son and not a single clue. Following her own “moms, do everything yourself” credo, Stephanie takes it upon herself, with the help of her social media followers, to find her missing friend. She has no idea just how convoluted this mystery will become as boundaries of friendship and loyalty are tested and lurid truths are unburied. Stephanie is about to enter an inky-black, nerve-wracking journey into deception, duplicity and transgressions, including her own, the worst being a secret sexual relationship with her half-brother.
While the film has countless laughs, it really doesn’t know if it wants to be a thriller or a comedy. In the hands of a more capable director, the film could have played like any Coen Bros’ black comedy, even to the level of their Oscar winning Fargo or Raising Arizona. However, Feig, who knows comedy perhaps better than anyone out there today (in addition to Bridesmaids, he has directed The Heat, Spy and the 2016 Ghostbusters), when it comes to comedy film noir, he fails miserably, unable to seamlessly combine the comedic elements with the noir.
If Lionsgate does the right thing, they will launch a Best Actress Oscar campaign for Kendrick and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar campaign for Lively. They are that good. Barring Oscar nominations, the film will be forgotten as fast as Feig’s last film, the sacrilegious Ghostbusters reboot.
A Simple Favor Review: Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively Steal the Film.